So you think you hate… patchouli?

Ah, patchouli… Deep, dark, earthy and present in plenty of Oriental perfumes, patchouli’s still somewhat tainted with a hippie-dippy aura, even now. (It’s been called ‘the scent of the Swinging 60s’, because the essential oil was often worn neat on the skin of music-loving, party-loving – and sometimes drug-loving – youth.)

It’s always blown our minds that despite it’s earthiness, patchouli isn’t a wood, or a root:  it’s actually a frilly green-leafed, purple-flowered member of the mint family, called Pogostemon patchouli.

Amazingly, from those fragile-looking leaves comes a sweet, spicy, smoky, cedar-y scent so powerful it has to be handled with care:  patchouli is the most powerful of any plant-derived essence. But perfumers wouldn’t be without patchouli, for the richness that it gives to fragrances – and not just those heady Orientals: patchouli makes its way into many chypre and powdery fragrances, swirling exotically alongside lavender, sandalwood, labdanum and bergamot, clove, clary sage, as well as vetiver. (It’s a little like vetiver, if you close your eyes.) Used alongside rose, it extends and ‘fixes’ rose’s sweetness.

The name, quite simply, comes from the old Tamil words patchai (‘green’) and ellai (‘leaf’). It originated in India, Malaysia and Indonesia and made its way to the Middle East via the exotic silk route: patchouli is a fantastic insect repellent, effective against flies and other bugs. (We’re going to try it out on our cashmere, and will report back.) Paisley shawls were traditionally layered with patchouli leaves in transit. Frenchwomen in the 19th Century swathed themselves in these patchouli-scented shawls against the cold – a fashion started by the Empress Eugenie – and patchouli became desirable, as a fragrance ingredient.

The quality of the oil can vary hugely. The very best stuff comes from the three or four top pairs of leaves, where the highest concentration of the fragrant oil is found. Once cut, they’re turned frequently to prevent them breaking down too quickly.  Then the leaves are stripped and placed into woven baskets, where a process of fermentation takes place that releases the incomparable fragrance. Then the leaves are either CO2-extracted, or steam-distilled. It’s highly skilled work, and only a few distilleries produce patchouli of a high enough quality to please a VIP ‘nose’, or creator. On a blotter, meanwhile, a single drop of patchouli can last for months.

For many today people, it’s still a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient, evoking plenty of prejudice. But we happen to adore it, and think even if you’re a naysayer: if you give some of these scents a try, you’ll likely develop a passion for patchouli…

In Bella Oudh there’s an exoticism of precious spices from Venice’s Trade Route, married with unashamedly plush flowers – all tempered by the mélange of sweet, earthy patchouli, slinky as a black velvet dress, and the freshly polished woods glowing warmly in the base. A fairytale of a fragrance, it’s impossible not to succumb to its colourful, overlapping dreaminess.

Tiziana Terenzi Bella Oudh £250 for 100ml eau de parfum
OR try a generous 15ml mini in our glorious collaboration of the Harvey Nichols & The Perfume Society Discovery Box (with TEN luxury size niche fragrances for only £45!)

Intriguingly smoky, velvety wine-dark petals unfurl in the heart of A Rose For… Revealing a sophisticated sprinkling of powdered iris root (orris) and a wisp of carnality with the rich seam of smouldering patchouli. The amber-y base swathes you in vanilla’s gossamer embrace that makes you feel is the way your skin should always smell.In hot weather it absolutely blooms, and in cold, you’ll want to cuddle closer.

Floris A Rose For£160 for 100ml
OR try a sample in our Launches We Love Discovery Box £19 (£15 for VIP Club members) with thirteen fragrances and three beauty extras, and make this patchouli-infused rose most definitely for… you.

In Fortitude, we find ‘The art of magnetism and sensuality, for those with a bit of swagger’ – a green Swarovski crystal-eyed horned ram atop the magnificent cap, and a clue to perfumer Ilias Ermenidis’s uninhibited, rambunctious composition. Overtly addictive tobacco absolute segues to rich, sticky patchouli swirled with creamy, almond-like tonka beans – a distinctive blend that’s seriously hard to resist.

Robert Graham Fortitude
£260 for 200ml eau de parfum,
OR try a sample size, with two other Robert Graham fragrances and seven other niche scents in our Harvey Nichols & The Perfume Society Discovery Box for only £45 (scroll up for a picture, above).

L’Homme Idéal Cool wraps the original almond olfactory signature in three utterly refreshing accords. At first whoosh, experience the effervescence of bergamot, orange and a handful of mint leaves. In the heart, neroli makes a reappearance, with aquatic notes lapping alongside. And in the base – ensuring this has staying power on the skin – encounter vetiver and the dappled shade of that so-welcome patchouli.
£56 for 50ml eau de toilette
johnlewis.com

Here’s proof that patchouli can throw off its deep, dark and sometimes dark past to be reinvented as something sheer, summery and fresh. Unexpected bedfellows of pear, Bourbon pepper, jasmine and white musk – as well as more expected notes of bergamot in the top, guaiac wood in the soft base, offer further proof of perfumer Nathalie Lorson’s talent for reinventing notes, the better to delight and surprise our noses.
£175 for 125ml eau de parfum
Harrods.com

Whichever of these fragrances you seek out, we urge you to try them on your skin and cast aside those ‘hippy’ preconceptions about patchouli. Truly, so many fragrances have patchouli in them that we bet many you already love contain the ingredient somewhere in the mix!

By Suzy Nightingale

So you think you hate… Oudh

There’s no doubt about it: oudh divides opinion. It’s one of those ‘Marmite’ perfumery ingredients, which people either swoon over or clutch their pearls and scream while avoiding at all costs.

But if you think you hate oudh – or any one of the other fragrant materials we’ll be discussing over the coming weeks – get ready to have your perfume preconceptions challenged, and allow yourself to experience some of the newer scents using it as more of a background note. Think of it in the same way you’d use a seasoning, like salt, in cooking. You wouldn’t want the whole dish to be dominated by it, but a judicious sprinkle can utterly alter the way the other ingredients behave and react with one another.

So, let’s go back to basics before we plunge in to the perfumes you should sniff out.

What is oudh?

When we blithely say ‘oudh’, we are actually referring to agarwood – the resinous heart-wood from fast-growing evergreen trees – usually the Aquilaria tree. The agarwood is a result of a reaction to a fungal attack, which turns this usually pale and light wood into a dark, resinous wood with a distinct fragrance – a process that can take hundreds of years.

From that ‘rotten’ wood, an oil is produced, tapped from the tree like maple syrup, and then blended into perfume. The aroma of ‘natural’ oudh is distinctively irresistible and attractive with bitter sweet and woody nuances: seriously earthy and, in small quantities, supremely sexy. Depending on the type of oudh, how long it’s been aged and the quantity used, it can be smooth as velvet, smell like fresh hay drying in sunshine or like a particularly busy barnyard on a rather ripe summer’s day. Just like anything else used in a fragrance, it depends entirely on the expertise of the perfumer, how much they are using, and in conjunction with which other ingredients.

A key ingredient in old and new Arabic perfumery, renowned for centuries as an element within high-quality incense in Arabic, Japanese and Indian cultures, oudh has gone from a ‘trend’ ingredient we saw emerging a few years ago on our scented shores, to now having definitively crossed over to the west as something you can find everywhere – even in fabric conditioners and deodorants. And yet, true oudh is rare, seriously expensive and even endangered: as it’s become more popular, high-quality oud is becoming difficult to source.

Collection of agarwood from natural forests is now illegal under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endanged Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but some is now beginning to be plantation grown in Vietnam. As an alternative, many perfumers have turned to synthetic oudh, although highly trained noses will tell you it can smell less nuanced, still woody and leathery, but without the warm, balsamic qualities.

So now, we want you to challenge your own nose and seek out some of our favourite fragrances, below. We’ve chosen scents that use oudh as that ‘seasoning’ we spoke of – a way of subtly adding depth, smoothness and velvety plushness within a perfume. Go on, even you oudh naysayers, we double dare you: and bet at least one of these will become a firm fragrant favourite in your collection…


Here we travel to the land of Assam via the richly resonant aromas of the East. Cinnamon leaf oil and nutmeg make for a lively opening with the heart notes giving way to the wonderfully exotic citrus-fresh elemi oil so prized by perfumers. Black tea accord marks our fragrant journey with its smoky tendrils slowly opening to the deeper base and that sweet, wet earthiness and smooth wood played out with notes of oudh and vetiver. Honey is drizzled to sweeten the mix but never becomes sickly, the stunningly smooth tobacco accord putting us in mind of freshly-rolled cigars and dense canopies of greenery outlined against mountains beyond.

Molton Brown Mesmerising Oudh & Gold Accord £45 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at Molton Brown

This feels like an homage to the very origins of perfume – ‘per-fumum’ meaning ‘through smoke’ – this exploration of incense, made exclusively for Harrods, melding the gentle fruity notes of fresh Turkish rose petals plucked from a misty, dew-specked garden, with a fragrant drift of exotic spices. There’s a myticism, somehow, to wearing this. A pure parfum, it lingers beguilingly on the skin for many hours, waves of wamth unfurling, tendrills of smoky woodiness curling around you as you move – your own invisible velvet cloak to swirl, joyously, all day. Just as perfect as night falls, the scent swoons duskily onto the skin like a sunset kissing the earth. Sumptuous.

Atelier Cologne Rose Smoke £325 for 100ml pure parfum
Buy it at Harrods

We automatically began smacking our lips at this, even before we’d sprayed. And oh, once you do, it’s every bit as delicious as you’d hope – if it did come in a jar we’d want to spread buttered crumpets with it, and most definitely smother ourselves from neck to ankles. Probably best it’s bottled, then. With a truly honeyed note that deepens as the sustainably-sourced oudh kicks in, this is intensely nuzzle-able, and there’s nothing whatever to frighten the horses. A gourmand-esque take on oudh, think soft rose and creamy sandalwood rippled with dark seams of oudh, amber and vanilla-specked deliciousness.

Floris Honey Oud £160 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Floris

Unashamedly salacious, the Turkish and Bulgarian roses entwine the heart, bereft of thorns they mingle with the gently powdered violet – a sheer dusting bestowed from a swan’s-down puff – and the most opulently creamy vanilla base you’re likely to encounter. The evocation of luxuriously stretching out on a satin bedspread and enjoying the feel of the silky material beneath your limbs is hard to resist – add to this image a silver bowl of decadent white chocolates decorated with sugared violets, and you’ll be in seventh Heaven! An animalic (thank you, oudh) smokiness underpins the sensuously draped covers, making this the perfect after-dark fragrance for illicit encounters…

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood £200 for 70ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Selfridges

Named after a small Turkish village on the banks of the river Euphrates and famed for its intensely dusky roses that bloom so deeply crimson they appear to be black, Halfeti is certainly not your ‘blushing English rose’. A balmy breeze of bergamot wafts forth saffron’s warmth, followed by a sizzle of spices perfectly blended with a bouquet of jasmine, rose, lavender and lily of the valley. In the base there’s a flex of supple leather, sensuous oudh swirled through glowing amber, chocolate-y patchouli and finally, a smooth dry down of deliciously almond-like tonka bean, sandalwood and a gently powdered musk. Take us away, immediately…

Penhaligon’s Halfeti £175 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Penhaligon’s

By Suzy Nightingale